We are the owners of our futures - Higher Education after the COVID-19 Crisis Initiative

María José Figueras - GUNi and ACUP President & Rector of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV)
We are the owners of our futures - Higher Education after the COVID-19 Crisis Initiative

The Covid-19 crisis has shattered our world. In just a few weeks we have seen our lives completely changed in so many ways related to our mobility, liberties, work, studies, research and our relationships with friends and family and with the wider community. In this context, Universities and research institutions have had to act quickly and adapt to the most severe global health crisis for a century by taking unprecedented measures amidst lockdowns with the challenge of keeping the whole community on track.

We can be proud of the response from Universities. From the very first moment that the crisis started, we have seen an incredible amount of initiatives to reduce the impacts of Covid-19 in their communities, to help policymakers, people and societies with resources, research, information, data, and much more. Our students have also shown an extraordinary will to help their communities by volunteering for different activities. Solidarity, cooperation, and resilience have been key features of higher education’s response to the virus.

One essential change is the way that all our activities and above all, teaching, have gone virtual, in an unprecedented move into the digital sphere. While many have coped well with these changes, others have experienced difficulties due to lack of expertise, hardware, patience[MR1]  and good connections, or because they have had to fit these activities around their work and having family members confined to their homes too. This has clearly shown us that there is still a lot to do to guarantee such a basic element as access and equity in our education system, and that occasional acts of altruism during a crisis will not solve this important issue.

The situation that we are experiencing has challenged us to be resilient and we can confidently state that we have stood up to the challenge. However, we are also being exposed to a myriad of questions and concerns that need to be tackled with urgency. We know that a return to ‘normal’ as we knew it will not be possible, and we will need to adapt for the long-term. Social and economic crises have been generated in parallel to the COVID-19 one, and these will bring increasing inequalities, poverty, loss of work, psychological problems, and so on.

Now is the time to re-think higher education and its mission and values. What kind of higher education institutions do we want after this pandemic? What kind of societies and what kind of people? Once again, higher education institutions must re-think their roles towards public good and social responsibility.

In a recent interview, Yuval Noah Hariri, when asked what the world will look like after coronavirus, answered that that is for us, as societies, to decide. According to him, the pandemic is not “pushing us towards a determined future”. This statement gives us reason to feel optimistic: we can make the right decisions, the ones that will help us create the kind of societies and higher education systems and institutions that we want for the future on the basis of the lessons learn. 

The Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi) gathers more than 230 institutions from around the world and, since its origins, has been working on the social responsibility of higher education institutions on the basis of public service, relevance and innovation. Our mission was and still is to promote analysis and debate on higher education policies and management for the benefit of societies.

The GUNi “Higher Education after the COVID-19 Crisis Initiative” seeks to build on this idea by making us all think about the kind of societies and higher education institutions that we want after this pandemic. Let’s take this opportunity to combine efforts and think collectively about our future. I highly encourage all of you to participate in this open Call. We look forward to starting the conversation.


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government